When Adrena Rocha was a freshman at Arvada High School she was more interested in partying than coming to school. She described herself as a “lost child,” her lowest point being when she ran away …
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When Adrena Rocha was a freshman at Arvada High School she was more interested in partying than coming to school. She described herself as a “lost child,” her lowest point being when she ran away from home.
“I had a lot of struggles with family,” Rocha said, “struggles with myself.”
But consequences of running away and disappointments that came with them fueled Rocha’s turnaround. Now, as a senior, she is involved in many activities at school, including being a student ambassador and participating in a girls group focused on mental health.
“I’ve been going up and down on this roller coaster, but I have to keep going,” Rocha said. “I can’t let (the struggles) define who I am.”
Rocha was one of four Jefferson County high school students to be recognized for overcoming adversity Nov. 12 at the Jeffco Schools Foundation Heroes Awards.
Award helps make college reality
Maxlene Augustin, of Arvada West High School; Kenneth Godoy, of Wheat Ridge High School; and Isaac Mohr, of Sobesky Academy, also were honored.
“These students have shown dedication, tenacity and resilience continuing on their path to graduation, despite personal hardships,” said Denise Delgado, executive director of the Jeffco Schools Foundation.
Each of the four students also receives a $1,000 scholarship from the foundation and a full scholarship to Red Rocks Community College.
‘They need someone to look up to’
Five teachers and staff from schools throughout the district were also honored as “heroes.”
Amos Baca, known by students at Deane Elementary School in Lakewood for his high fives and hats, was among them.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to work in this kind of environment with kids,” said Baca.
Kym O’Donnell, of Westgate Elementary School in Lakewood; Rusty Owston, of North Arvada Middle School; and Ron Woitalewicz, of Dakota Ridge High School in south Jeffco, were also honored.
O’Donnell, an instructional coach, grew up in foster care following her mother’s addiction, which fuels her desire to help students going through tough times.
“You’re given a deck of cards and you play to the best of your ability and hope you come out a little better than when you started,” O’Donnell said.
Just before school started this year, O’Donnell’s husband, a traffic agent with the Lakewood Police Department, was in a line-of-duty accident resulting in severe injuries. Her school family rallied around her.
She wanted to show her love and return support by returning to work. She said she didn’t want to let students down at one of the most important times of the school year.
Tragedy redefines counselor
This year, for the first time, the foundation also honored a hero among the heroes with the Hero of the Year award.
That award went to Lisa Regon, counselor at Arvada West High School.
Regon was described as having a good heart and someone who works hard to help students through difficult times.
In June, Regon’s 8-year-old son, Noah, died in a hiking accident at Hanging Lake. She called him a “sparkling soul” and he is remembered as a kind and generous kid. But grief took over Regon.
Eventually, she said she was able to turn her grief into purpose by helping students seek answers to their own painful situations. Her colleagues say it redefined her as a counselor.
“There’s no way I would have been able to get through this tragedy without the people around me,” Regon said. “I work at the most amazing school.”
Staff who were honored received a complimentary, three-hour course at Red Rocks Community College to continue their professional development and a $500 classroom grant for enrichment activities from the foundation.
Said Andrea Hart, Jeffco Schools Foundation board chair: “It is truly an honor to honor our Jeffco students, educators and staff who have really risen above and beyond some incredible hardships to achieve great things in their lives and in their schools.”
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